Oklahoma drug law enforcement agency moves toward ‘treatment option’ to combat addiction (Capitol Updates)

Photo by Sharyn Morrow / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Photo by Sharyn Morrow / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol. You can find past Capitol Updates archived  on his website.

There was an important announcement this week by leaders of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD) that they would like to start offering a “treatment option,” in conjunction with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) for people who show up on their prescription monitoring program as serial purchasers of certain addictive drugs. You may remember the prescription monitoring program was created by legislation authored in 2015 by Rep. Doug Cox (R-Grove) and Sen. A.J. Griffin (R-Guthrie.) It requires pharmacists to report every prescription purchase of certain drugs to the PMP. Physicians are required to check the PMP before writing a first prescription of those drugs to any patient, and thereafter every 6 months before renewing a prescription.

The treatment option was an important announcement because it signifies a new and better approach by law enforcement agencies to combat the scourge of addiction. During the war on drugs both federal and state governments have provided numerous tools and resources for law enforcement to fight the spread of addiction. The tools and resources have largely been seen as a way to gather evidence and use it to arrest, convict and punish violators of drug laws.

Time and experience have shown that this has done little to solve the addiction problem and a lot to criminalize behavior that calls for treatment. In 2013 before the PMP law was passed, 593 people in Oklahoma died from overdose involving at least one prescription drug. The announcement by OBNDD does not mean that it has given up on its role to enforce the law. But it is an important recognition by an agency at the heart of the war on drugs that simply catching and punishing is not enough. The good legislative work done by Rep. Cox and Sen. Griffin in requiring pharmacies to report their sales of addictive drugs and physicians to be more cautious in prescribing them is now being taken a step further by leaders of the OBNDD.

This is proof positive that there is good thinking and good work going on in Oklahoma state government. It’s only one example of efforts by good people to deal with a society that seems at times to be spun out of control. Every legislative session there are good ideas developed within and without state government to deal with real problems that are getting worse. But too often they are only partially adopted and largely unfunded. Where, for example, is the ODMHSAS going to get the money to provide treatment to the new clients that will be forwarded to it by OBNDD? It is even now serving only a portion of the clients it already knows about. We are moving to a better way of thinking, but we won’t be there until we are willing to back our ideas with the money it takes to implement them.

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Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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